Portrait of Mercy Otis Warren


Pictured is a portrait by John Singleton Copley of Mercy Otis Warren. Warren was a significant figure during the American Revolutionary period. Rightfully known for her writings that supported the American Revolution and criticized British policies. Her most notable works include plays, poetry, and political essays. She was also one of the earliest female historians in the United States, writing a comprehensive history of the American Revolution. Warren's contributions to American literature and history are widely recognized, and she is considered one of the prominent women of her time. Revolutionarywomengroup6 states, “In the 18th century, writing on topics such as politics and war was completely dominated by men until Warren broke this boundary with great success.” Warren broke boundaries as a woman by fearlessly engaging in political discourse, making significant literary and historical contributions, and challenging societal expectations of women's roles and capabilities. While Warren did not explicitly campaign for women's rights, her actions and achievements challenged traditional notions of women's capabilities. By excelling in fields typically reserved for men and advocating for political change, she indirectly contributed to the advancement of women's rights by demonstrating women's intellectual and political capacity. Lester Cohens, in “Explaining the Revolution: Ideology and Ethics in Mercy Otis Warren's Historical Theory” states, “She had actively supported the causes of resistance and revolution for four decades, establishing a reputation as a patriot.” The role of actively supporting the revolution, despite the struggles that women faced during the time, goes to show the strength and resilience that Warren had. To go about this and continue to make works that criticized the politics surrounding the nation was even more astonishing and ground breaking.

One of Warren’s most notable works is “Observations on the New Constitution, which served as a critical analysis of the United States Constitution. Published anonymously, it expressed concerns about centralized power and the lack of individual rights. Warren's work provided valuable insight into the debates surrounding the adoption of the Constitution. In this work Warren states, “and if certain selected bodies of men, deputed on these principles, determine contrary to the wishes and expectations of their constituents, the people have an undoubted right to reject their decisions, to call for a revision of their conduct, to depute others in their room, or, if they think proper, to demand further time for deliberation on matters, of the greatest moment: it there|fore is an unwarrantable stretch of authority or influence, if any methods are taken to preclude this reasonable and peaceful mode of enquiry and decision.” Warren emphasizes the importance of accountability and the right of the people to challenge decisions made by their representatives. She argues that if representatives act contrary to the will of their constituents, the people have the right to reject their decisions, replace them with others, or demand further discussion. 


Works Cited

Cohen, Lester H. “Explaining the Revolution: Ideology and Ethics in Mercy Otis Warren’s Historical Theory.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 37, no. 2, 1980, pp. 200–18. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/1919496. Accessed 5 May 2024.

“Literary Ladies.” Women in the American Revolution, revolutionarywomengroup6.weebly.com/literary-ladies.html. Accessed 4 May 2024.

"Mercy Otis Warren." Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Apr. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercy_Otis_Warren. Accessed 4 May 2024.

Warren, Mercy Otis. “Observations on the New Constitution.” Observations on the New Constitution, and on the Foederal and State Conventions. By a Columbian Patriot. ; Sic Transit Gloria Americana. | Evans Early American Imprint Collection | University of Michigan Library Digital Collections, quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N16431.0001.001/1:2?rgn=div1%3Bview. Accessed 4 May 2024.

Associated Place(s)


  • John Singleton Copley

Image Date: 

circa. 1763